This winter, many seniors who have the means to do so will head south to Florida and other warm locales where they will soak up the sun and wait out all the more unpleasant aspects of the northern winter: the cold, the ice, and the mounds of snow.

Those who stay behind will have not just inclement weather to worry about but also the rising costs of staying warm. Few groups are as vulnerable to high and unpredictable fuel prices as seniors living on fixed incomes. CEA has previously highlighted the plight of seniors struggling to afford basic essentials such as air conditioning and heat. This autumn, as most of us are feeling that familiar chill in the air, there are reasons for elevated concern. You may have read that, for the second straight year, seniors will get no cost of living adjustment in their Social Security payments, a determination based on low inflation. Yet while it’s true that costs of housing and many other consumer goods have not risen in recent years, fuel costs are as volatile as ever. The early word this season is that it’s going to cost considerably more to heat a home this winter. Prices may be flat across the board, but some necessities, like utilities, are getting more expensive.

It is often hard to connect global trade policy with individual lives, but with the squeeze so many seniors feel each winter, we have a perfect – if disturbing – example of how policy affects people. And, while there have been all sorts of changes in the energy industry in recent years, from new oil and gas discoveries to advances in solar and wind power, we find ourselves here in the year 2010 still importing far too much of our fuel from overseas, and as a result, grappling with a lack of energy security and energy price stability that has eluded us for decades.

As the seniors faced with the tough decisions whether to buy groceries or heat their homes remind us, this is not just a theoretical problem.